How to be Optimistic

Imagine you worked hard on a report all week. As you hand it over to your boss, you feel proud. You know your boss is going to appreciate the quality of your work.

While reading through your report you notice your boss makes a small frown, and then says "I think you did a good job, if you could just reword section two and add the figures I sent over last night, then it will be ready for the board"

How would you react?

Can you imagine slumping back to your office, feeling crushed? You worked so hard, and yet your boss thinks the report is lousy. For the rest of the day, you can't get the image of your boss's frown out of your mind. Your mood is down, and you feel listless.

This might sound like an over-reaction, and it is, but this is exactly how a pessimist might react. Assuming the worst turns a small setback into a disaster.

So if you are naturally pessimistic, or just have pessimistic tendencies form time to time, what can you do to tackle this? Well it’s as easy as ABC:

The ABC Technique

ABC stands for; Adversity, Beliefs and Consequences. In short, we encounter Adversity. How we think about this creates Beliefs. These beliefs then influence what we do next, so they become Consequences.

The key point occurs between adversity and belief. When you encounter adversity, how you tend to explain it to yourself directly impacts your mindset and your relationships. Psychologists call this your "explanatory style," and this style can influence your entire outlook on life.

There are three dimensions to your explanatory style:


Pessimistic people unconsciously assume that the causes of bad events are permanent, while optimists believe that bad events are temporary.

For example; imagine you were having a bad day and had no time to help a colleague who really needed it. A pessimist might think, "I should never be friends with anyone at work because I'm a terrible friend." An optimist might think, "I was a terrible friend today."

The difference might be subtle, but it really matters for your outlook!


Pessimists make universal statements about their lives when something goes badly, while optimists make specific statements.

For instance, a pessimist might think, "All my reports are useless." An optimist might think, "This report was useless."

Again, the difference is subtle. Pessimists take one negative event and allow it to turn their entire work, or life, into a catastrophe. Optimists recognize that they might have failed in one area, but they don't allow that failure to overwhelm other parts of their lives.


When we experience a negative event, we have two ways to think about it. We can blame ourselves for the event (internalizing it). Or, we can blame something outside ourselves (externalizing it).

Pessimists often internalize blame. They think, "This is all my fault," or "I'm too dumb to do this job." Optimists have higher self-esteem because they tend to externalize blame, thinking, "This is all John's fault," or "I haven't learnt enough about this skill yet; that's why I'm not doing well at this task."

Using The ABC Technique

Step 1: Track Your Inner Dialog

Begin by keeping a diary for several days. Your goal is to listen to your inner dialog, especially when you encounter a stressful or difficult situation.

For each situation, write down the adversity you experienced, the beliefs you formed after encountering the adversity, and the consequences of those beliefs.

Consequences can be anything, from happy or unhappy thoughts and feelings, to specific actions that you took.

Step 2: Analyze Results

Once you've written down several ABC situations, take a look at what you have found.

Here, you need to look for patterns in your thinking, specifically, how any broad beliefs have led to specific consequences.

To be optimistic, you need to change your beliefs following adversity. This, in turn, leads to more positive consequences.

Step 3: Disputing

This is the key step in changing any pessimistic habits, you can think of Disputing as a "D" after ABC.

To dispute your negative thoughts and beliefs, you argue with yourself rationally. In particular, you look for the mistaken assumptions about your explanatory style that we talked about earlier.

Using the previous example, here’s how you might Dispute the negative beliefs:

“I'm blowing this out of proportion. My boss had every right to ask me to make some changes to my report; it was nothing personal. They even pointed out that I had done a good job”

To be optimistic, you must change what you believe about yourself, and about the situation, when you encounter adversity. Positive beliefs will, in turn, lead to more positive consequences, and a more positive outlook.


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